If the Election Commission (EC) forwards a case involving Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat's previous iTV shareholdings to the Constitutional Court, this could sway senators in the crucial vote for a new PM on Thursday, according to a former election commissioner and an academic.
Former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said if the court accepts the case for consideration, the court can order Mr Pita to be suspended from duty as an MP, which will affect voting on Thursday.
Mr Pita would not be allowed into parliament as an MP, though he still could enter the premises as a prime ministerial candidate, Mr Somchai said.
This would also be cited by senators as a reason to abstain from voting as they would fear the vote could be problematic due to Mr Pita's alleged ineligibility, he said.
Mr Pita, who is the MFP's sole prime ministerial candidate, stands accused of being ineligible to contest the election because he held 42,000 shares in iTV, which is believed by some critics to be an operational media company when he registered his candidacy in the 2019 election. Mr Pita has denied the allegation, saying he only served as executor of the family's inherited shares.
The constitution bars individuals with media shareholdings from running for office.
Mr Somchai said the EC should summon Mr Pita to defend himself against the accusation before it decides to forward the case to the court.
An EC inquiry panel looking into Mr Pita's alleged ineligibility wrapped up its investigation and forwarded findings to the EC's main committee yesterday.
EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong on Monday said that the poll agency has yet to forward the case to the Constitutional Court as the inquiry panel only briefed the EC's main committee on its findings on Monday.
Jade Donavanik, a legal scholar and ex-adviser to a charter drafting panel, echoed the view, saying if the EC finds grounds for the accusation against Mr Pita, the next step is for the poll agency to forward the case to the court.
If the court accepts the case, it will ask the House speaker to suspend Mr Pita as an MP pending a trial, Mr Jade said.
However, Mr Pita can still be nominated for prime minister in the vote on Thursday, Mr Jade said.
Even if Mr Pita wins the vote, he still cannot carry out the duties of a prime minister pending the trial, Mr Jade added.
In that case, senators may decide to abstain from voting until the court rules on his eligibility, Mr Jade said, adding that another way out of the problem is for political parties to nominate another alternative candidate.
"It is not easy. I don't think a new prime minister can be elected in the July 13 vote," Mr Jade said.
MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon said on Monday he sent an urgent letter to the EC to protest any decision to forward the case to the court.
He said the poll agency was trying to rush the case, and the EC's inquiry panel had failed to summon Mr Pita to explain himself before the panel first, as stipulated by its regulations.
Mr Pita said on Monday that the EC had not summoned him yet, but he is ready, adding that talks between the MFP and senators would yield a favourable outcome.
According to sources, the Senate committee on political development and public participation believes if Mr Pita fails to win his PM bid in the first round of voting on Thursday, he cannot be nominated for any further voting rounds.